Monthly Archives: August 2013

CRTC dismisses complaints against Explora, Illico Club Unlimited over genre exclusivity violations

Genre exclusivity, one of those dinosaurs of the Canadian broadcasting system, was put to the test recently thanks to two complaints from companies that profit from this protection, and on Tuesday the CRTC rejected both complaints.


Basically, any specialty TV channel is prevented from competing directly with any channel that has genre protection as part of its licence. This is to ensure diversity in the specialty channel system by protecting services that have been broadcasting for decades and have high requirements for Canadian content and original programming.

The list of services with such genre exclusivity is relatively small compared to the number of channels available today. All were licensed in 2000 or before, because the CRTC has said it will no longer grant these types of licences (for now anyway, it plans to revisit this in 2015-16). They include the oldest and most popular specialty services: Discovery Channel, Bravo, Food Network, HGTV, Showcase, Space, Comedy Network, Teletoon, Weather Network, Vision TV and YTV, but many others too in English, French and other languages.

Most TV channels licensed since 2000 are called Category B (formerly Category 2) licences, which do not have genre protection, which means they can compete freely with each other (but not directly with the genre-exclusive Category A services).

Genre exclusivity doesn’t mean that two channels can’t air the same programs. If a program falls under two channels’ nature of service (say, it’s a sci-fi show for kids), then it can air on both. But it does mean that two channels can’t be about the same thing.

In many cases, genre exclusivity is enforced by licence limitations. The Comedy Network, for example, is limited in how much animated programming it can air to prevent it from competing with Teletoon. Most new channels are limited in how much of their schedule can be spent airing theatrical films, live sporting events or music videos.

Specialty channels are not considered to be directly competing if they serve a niche. For example, CMT doesn’t compete with MuchMusic because it (theoretically) airs country music videos and country-themed programming. Retro programming channels like Comedy Gold or MovieTime are allowed because their licences state that they can only air programming that’s at least a certain number of years old.

But the system has a bunch of flaws. For one thing, many channels that have genre exclusivity have been moving away from the formats they were licensed for. MuchMusic has been pushing to reduce the number of hours it devotes to music videos. Discovery Channel’s commitment to science, nature and technology can certainly be questioned these days as reality shows start filling up its schedule. What is now called Twist TV was licensed as a health channel, and now airs Bridezillas and Supernanny. And don’t get me started on OWN (which, as far as I can tell, has completely ignored a court order from the CRTC requiring it to air educational programming).

The CRTC is slowly starting to deal with this issue. First was the moratorium on new channels of this protected type. Then came the removal of exclusivity for mainstream news and sports channels, which created a new category (Category C) of channels that have common licence conditions and are designed to be directly competitive. The commission recently proposed putting mainstream music channels (like MuchMusic and MusiquePlus) into this category as well, though a decision has not been reached yet.

The commission’s three-year plan has it reviewing genre protection in 2014-15, and then reviewing the Category A system the following year to see if it should remove the moratorium and licence new services of that type.

In the meantime, the CRTC has to enforce this, particularly when there are complaints, which brings us to the news of the day.

The news

The CRTC released two decisions on Tuesday:

The first dismissed a complaint by Serdy Media, which owns Canal Évasion. Serdy had complained that Radio-Canada’s new service Explora violated Évasion’s genre protection by broadcasting “adventure”-themed programming, while Explora’s licence requires it to broadcast programs related to “scientific discoveries, the environment, nature and human health.” Serdy took specific issue with the fact that Explora marketed its programming in part as adventure. The CRTC found that because the programs in question could also be categorized as environment or nature programming, Explora was still within its licence. The commission dismissed the complaint, but warned Radio-Canada not to use “adventure” in marketing the channel.

The second decision dismissed a complaint by what was then still Astral Media, which owned pay TV movie service Super Écran, against Videotron’s Illico Club Unlimited. Videotron launched the Netflix-like service earlier this year, and though online streaming services are not regulated by the CRTC, because Illico’s programming could be accessed through Videotron’s video on demand system, which is regulated by the CRTC, Astral complained that it was essentially a VOD service and had to respect genre protection. The CRTC essentially ruled that because Illico Club Unlimited contains films that are past the pay TV window, and doesn’t include movies currently airing on Super Écran, it’s not directly competitive.

Both decisions limit the reach of genre protection, and you have to wonder if this isn’t a way of relaxing the rules a bit to allow for more competition.

Unfortunately we’re still going to have to wait another year before this system gets the full airing out it deserves, and these entertainment-focused channels with profit margins in excess of 30% are forced to justify their protection from direct competition.

Hudson FM station ready to start “within weeks”

Existing (orange line) and proposed (red line) pattern of CHSV-FM 106.7 Hudson

Existing (orange lines) and proposed (red lines) patterns of CHSV-FM 106.7 Hudson, with interference zones from 106.9 The Bear (blue) and 106.7 The Wizard (red).

The western off-island communities of Hudson, Saint-Lazare and Vaudreuil could see their first English-language local station later this fall if the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approves a technical amendment so the station can change its transmission site.

Transmission Plan B

Dufferin Communications, which has a licence to operate a 500-watt English-language music station at 106.7 FM serving the region, was originally supposed to transmit from a Bell-owned tower on Route Harwood near Rue Thomas, which would have put it right in the Hudson community. But on April 29, Bell informed Dufferin that “the tower is now at its capacity and any additions will cause overload and reinforcement will be inevitable.” It also says that the location on the tower that Dufferin had been looking at originally has now been taken by an antenna being used “for public safety purposes.”

Rather than spend as much as $100,000 to reinforce the Bell tower, $50,000 to install a tower extension, and $40,000 to install a new transmitter shelter, Dufferin decided it would seek another tower nearby. Its search led it to a Rogers-owned tower on Chemin Sainte-Angélique near Rue des Liserons, about 5.3 kilometres southwest of the Bell tower.

Because it’s much farther from Hudson than the Bell tower, Dufferin is also seeking changes to the station’s pattern to compensate. Rather than an omnidirectional antenna at 500 watts, they would operate a (slightly) directional antenna with an average of 1420W and a maximum of 2650W. (Both the approved and proposed antennas would be at a height of 95 metres.)

“In order to maintain the 70 dBu contour in the same position over the target area of Hudson/St-Lazare, and in order to compensate for some minor terrain grazing, it is necessary to increase power to 2650 watts,” its brief to the CRTC says.

The new signal keeps about the same coverage in Hudson, but significantly improves the quality of the signal toward the west (Rigaud) and a bit toward the south (Saint-Clet). The larger 54dBu contour improves in all directions (more so toward the west), but the signal’s actual reach will mainly be limited by interference from other stations. Toward the east and south, people in the West Island, Mirabel, Beauharnois and Valleyfield will likely experience interference from WIZN (The Wizard) in Burlington, Vt., which operates on the same frequency. Toward the west, people in Lachute and on the other side of the Ontario border will hear interference from CKQB-FM (106.9 The Bear) in Ottawa.

Though the new signal greatly increases the population served, Dufferin warns that it doesn’t greatly increase the number of anglophones served in that population, since anglos in the area are concentrated around Hudson and Saint-Lazare.

Ready to go

Dufferin tells the CRTC that the Rogers site “is ready made and will allow us to implement the service within weeks of approval as all our other infrastructure and equipment are in place.”

Vice-President Carmela Laurignano confirmed to me that, indeed, the station could be on the air very quickly once this technical plan is approved. She said the tower is ready, the antenna is on stand-by, and programming is ready to go.

Because it was approved only last October, it has until Oct. 19, 2014 to launch, unless it asks for an extension.

Names of on-air talent are “confidential at this point,” Laurignano said, but some of the station’s 25 or so full-time and part-time employees have already been hired.

The station, which will carry the brand “106.7 The Jewel”, part of a network of such stations in southern and eastern Ontario, will air mainly music with an easy listening format (Céline Dion, Rod Stewart, Michael Bublé). Its original application said it would have live programming during peak hours, including local newscasts, but voice-tracked programming outside of those hours. Its budget would be about $750,000 a year, based off mainly local ads that would cost between $22 and $34 a minute on average.

The application can be downloaded as a .zip file here. Comments are being accepted until Sept. 16, and can be submitted online here. Remember that all information submitted, including contact information, appears on the public record. There is no timeline for a decision, but if the CRTC does not find it controversial, expect it within weeks of the deadline for comments.

CTV Montreal parts with sales manager

Updated below with information from Ecclissi.

Tony Ecclissi gives a presentation about CTV Montreal's fall lineup on June 13. He won't be sticking around to see it on air.

Tony Ecclissi gives a presentation about CTV Montreal’s fall lineup on June 13. He won’t be sticking around to see it on air.

Tony Ecclissi no longer works for CTV Montreal. In what general manager Louis Douville qualified as a “simple re-structuring,” the position of General Sales Manager has been eliminated.

“Martin Poirier will take over the National Sales Manager portfolio and I plan on announcing a Retail Sales Manager in the near future,” Douville wrote to me in an email when I inquired about Ecclissi.

People emailing Ecclissi are now getting an automated reply that reads “Please note that Mr. Antonio Ecclissi is no longer with the company,” followed by contact information for Poirier and Douville, who’s handling local sales for now.

Ecclissi’s LinkedIn page, which has been updated to reflect the end of his three-year tenure at CTV Montreal, lists his profession as “Media Advertising Specialist.”

“There has been some restructuring as you know as a result of the Astral purchase,” Ecclissi told me. “Myself along with the Sales Managers at CTV Ottawa (Dan Champagne) and CTV Vancouver (Lynne Forbes) are the latest casualties who were let go last week. I was General Sales Manager and responsible for both the National Sales Team and the Local sales team.”

Tony Ecclissi

UPDATE (Sept. 4): CTV Montreal has split Ecclissi’s former job in two, naming former TSN 690 GM Wayne Bews as retail sales manager and senior account executive Martin Poirier as national sales manager.

CBC vs. City in softball game Thursday

Steve Rukavina isn't afraid of City.

Steve Rukavina isn’t afraid of City.

Thursday evening will see an epic media battle for the ages.

Or not.

Staff of City Montreal have accepted a challenge to play a softball game against the CBC Montreal all-stars, who are still recovering from a 10-0 humiliation at the hands of the Jewish General memory clinic last month.

The game begins at 7pm at Nelson Mandela Park in Côte des Neiges, corner of Westbury and Barclay Aves., near the Plamondon metro station.

There’s no money on the line, just pride. They’ll be passing the hat to support the NDG Food Depot.

But the trash talking has already begun

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Sophie Durocher and the “entente secrète” obsession

Sophie Durocher's 2011 column found to have libelled Gesca, was online until after the decision last week.

Sophie Durocher’s 2011 column found to have libelled Gesca, was online until after the decision last week.

When it pulled out of the Quebec Press Council, Quebecor’s Journal de Montréal made it clear that it would let only two forces judge it on its content: the free market power of its readership, and the legal power of the courts.

The latter struck against the paper last week when it issued a decision ordering owner Sun Media, its Canoe Inc. division and columnist Sophie Durocher to pay $10,000 to Gesca over a column she wrote that was defamatory toward the rival newspaper publisher.

The dispute was over a column, published in the Journal de Montréal on June 17, 2011, that alleged that during the previous federal election campaign, Radio-Canada had tried to negotiate for Gesca’s to have free online streaming rights to the leaders’ debate.

Actually, Quebecor disputes that interpretation, so I’ll just have you read her in her own words (bolding is mine):

Lors des dernières élections fédérales, avant le débat des chefs, le consortium des radiodiffuseurs (CBC et Radio-Canada, CTV, Global, TVA) s’est réuni à plusieurs reprises. En effet, de nombreux médias veulent avoir accès à la diffusion en direct du débat et il fallait établir une grille tarifaire pour leur vendre ces images.

Des représentants de chaque diffuseur discutaient des demandes des radios, des journaux ou des sites Internet qui voulaient avoir accès à la transmission en direct du débat.

Or, j’ai appris qu’un des représentants de Radio-Canada a demandé si la transmission du débat pouvait être DONNÉE à Cyberpresse, le site Internet des journaux de Gesca!

Autrement dit, le représentant de Radio-Canada négociait au profit de Gesca, comme on le ferait pour aider un ami. Comme s’il était leur porte-parole auprès des autres diffuseurs.

As it turns out, this wasn’t true, the judge ruled. La Presse vice-president of news Eric Trottier denied it, the leader of the consortium, Troy Reeb of Global News, denied it, and former general manager of news for Radio-Canada, Alain Saulnier, denied it. Pierre Tourangeau, who was Radio-Canada’s other representative on the consortium board, also denied it. All four testified as such in front of the judge: Nothing like this happened. Had she spoken with all of them, at least one probably would have told her that. (She tried to contact both Saulnier and Tourangeau, but couldn’t get comments before publication.) Instead she went with information she got from one or more anonymous sources and rushed it to publication.

There was an actual source who testified to corroborate Durocher’s story. Marc Gilbert, who was a member on the consortium board representing … oh, I’ll let you guess which TV network he was representing. He said he heard during a conference call, possibly during an informal discussion, someone from Radio-Canada (he couldn’t say who) asking about giving broadcast rights to Gesca. Though he said it wasn’t a negotiation, it wasn’t shot down by CTV, TVA or Global but rather someone from CBC, and he said he wasn’t Durocher’s source.

Getting burned by sources happens. It’s happened to me a few times, usually because the source is misinformed and presents information as being more reliable than it is. It’s hard to keep a really juicy piece of information under your hat until you verify it, especially if it’s one of those things people don’t want to talk about publicly, or if you can’t reach the person who can confirm it. It’s embarrassing to be caught on it, but you apologize profusely, correct the misinformation and try to reassure people you won’t do it again.

But that’s not what Sophie Durocher did. Instead, she stood her ground, refused to retract or correct the article (it remained online for two years without correction), and when the case finally got to court she and Quebecor presented some ridiculous defences. Among them:

  • She never said anything about giving broadcast rights away for free (apparently redefining what the verb “donner” means).
  • Gesca has no standing to sue because the article isn’t about it (even though the word “Gesca” appears in the column eight times).
  • The court is unfamiliar with rules of journalistic practice and so can’t determine if she followed them
  • Sophie Durocher is not a journalist, but a columnist, and so has the right to express her views, even if they’re false

The judge saw through all of these arguments, and ordered damages of $10,000. Gesca had asked for $75,000, but without any evidence of actual harm done to Gesca’s reputation, it’s getting a fraction of that. The judge also ordered a public apology be issued.

It’s unsurprising to learn that Quebecor plans to appeal. It said as much in a series of tweets, and in a letter from the editor published in the Journal de Montréal on Tuesday.


In cases such as these, motive plays a big part. The court heard that Durocher was essentially responding to an article that had appeared in La Presse the previous day from Marc Cassivi, criticizing Durocher specifically for harping on a “secret agreement” between Gesca and Radio-Canada. She worked on her column until the wee hours of the morning, rushing to get it done using information she had been given weeks before but had only that day tried to confirm. The judge found that she had no real reason to rush this to publication and could have waited to confirm the information before publishing.

In the end, the judge found that there was malice, but not bad faith, in Durocher’s actions. She believed what she was reporting (sorry, opining, because she’s not a journalist) was true, but she was negligent in her duties due to an emotional reaction to Cassivi’s column that robbed her of her objectivity.

Her loss of objectivity didn’t start with Cassivi’s column. It has unfortunately been present for a long time, as it has with many of her colleagues at Sun Media.

The “entente secrète” is a perfect demonstration of this. For one thing, it wasn’t a secret. It was announced in a press release in 2001 (in both languages). And the agreement is no longer valid, having ended without renewal in 2003. And the agreement primarily concerns non-journalistic resources.

Durocher and others have a point about the informal relationship between these two organizations, but choose to attribute it to some conspiracy instead of investigating the real causes.

I spoke to people at La Presse and Radio-Canada after Durocher’s 2010 “Ici Radio-Gesca” column, in which she complains that Radio-Canada too often has La Presse journalists and columnists as guests and freelancers on its shows. The people I talked to explained the situation with these points:

  • Durocher is exaggerating. The shows she cites regularly invite journalists from Le Devoir and other media
  • La Presse has more journalists than other media, particularly those who specialize in specific beats
  • Quebecor prevents many of its personalities from appearing as guests on Radio-Canada shows, or those personalities simply refuse to appear because they work for TVA or Quebecor
  • There is a tendency, mostly out of laziness, to use La Presse journalists (and journalists from other media) as guests, and Radio-Canada should be doing more to find people with first-hand stories

But Durocher continues to insist on the “entente secrète”, to the point where Quebecor tried to enter agreements between Gesca and Radio-Canada into evidence, only to have the judge rule that they were irrelevant to the case.

I hope that Durocher, the Journal de Montréal’s media columnist, steps back and takes this as a sign that she needs to take a more dispassionate approach to her paper’s primary competitors. We need people to keep Gesca and Radio-Canada on their toes, and to criticize them when they do wrong. But as it is what she writes can’t be trusted because it so transparently comes from a place of bitter resentment.

Whether she’s a journalist or columnist, this isn’t helpful for anyone.

More coverage:

Chris Bury appointed program director at TSN 690, remains PD at CJAD

Chris Bury

Chris Bury

Everyone’s wondering about what kind of changes we’re going to see at Montreal’s two English-language AM talk stations now that they’re owned by the same company. The first step in the transformation happened on Tuesday when Martin Spalding, now vice-president of operations and local sales for Quebec radio for Bell Media, appointed Chris Bury as program director for TSN 690.

Bury is the program director at CJAD, and will retain this role, meaning he’ll be programming both stations.

The announcement was made Tuesday afternoon to staff at both stations, and Spalding confirmed it to me.

“His nomination came out today so it is a little early to start talking change but knowing him, without a doubt, he will work hard to make the best of TSN and CJAD,” Spalding told me. “It’s great that the station will have a dedicated program director, it will only pay dividends.”

Wayne Bews

Wayne Bews

TSN 690’s station manager, Wayne Bews, who was performing the duties of program director before the merger, remains in his role. “For the time being, it’s business as usual and Wayne continues to assume his current role,” Spalding said, which certainly doesn’t sound like anyone should bet on Bews’s job staying the same for long. CJAD, CHOM and Virgin Radio have their own program directors but not individual station managers, which would make it odd for TSN 690 to retain one after the merger is complete.

Bury also said it was “too early” to talk about programming changes.

UPDATE (Sept. 4): Bews has been named retail sales manager for CTV Montreal.

Two proposals for radio stations serving Tamil community

Despite repeated indications from the CRTC that Montreal already has enough ethnic radio stations, two groups have applied for new ones to serve a South Asian communities they feel are underrepresented on radio today.

AGNI Communication, 102.9 FM

The first is one I wrote about in January, a low-power FM station at 102.9 FM whose signal would only cover the centre north of the island. (It already has a proposed callsign, CILO-FM.) Its programming would be mainly Tamil, but also programming for the Sri Lankan, Indian, Malaysian, Ethiopian, Maldavian, Malaysian, Somali, Nepalese and Singaporean communities.

This application was first supposed to be considered at a hearing in March, but was pulled from that hearing by the CRTC for a reason that it did not specify, but likely had to do with a second potentially competing application.

Interventions for the application the first time around prompted a letter of opposition from McGill’s CKUT, which said the company’s owner Philip Koneswaran had a subcarrier service on its station and left it with a $24,700 debt, plus would compete with a different Tamil service that’s now on CKUT’s subcarrier. (Subcarrier services are not protected from competition.)

The application also solicited strong opposition from Groupe CHCR, which runs CKDG-FM (Mike FM) and CKIN-FM, arguing that there would be overlap with its services and that the application lacked key information that could be used to evaluate its impact on the market. CHCR president Marie Griffiths also strongly criticized the applicant’s business plan as unsustainable.

Radio Humsafar, 1610 AM

The second application is by Radio Humsafar, an ethnic radio service that is looking for a transmitter (it’s available online, as a subcarrier service and over phone lines — getting about 1,000 calls a day averaging 20 minutes each — until then). It has proposed setting up a 1kW transmitter at 1610AM, the frequency recently vacated by CJWI (CPAM Radio Union, the Haitian station), using the same antenna as Concordia’s CJLO 1690AM, along Norman St. above Highway 20 in Lachine.

A third of the programming, 42 hours a week, of Humsafar’s radio station would be in the English language, but targeted at “English speaking Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, West Indian, Indo-Africans and 2nd generation South Asians.” It would also have 16 hours a week of Tamil programs (around noon each day), 16 hours a week in Urdu (late evenings and weekend mornings), 15 hours a week in Punjabi (mid-mornings), 15 hours a week in Hindi (a three-hour weekday morning show), 14 hours a week in Bengali (8pm to 10pm), six hours a week in Gujarati (weekend mid-mornings) and two hours a week in Pashto (late evenings on weekends).

With the exception of Hindi and Punjabi, Humsafar argues these languages and ethnic groups aren’t served on Montreal radio, with the exception of campus radio and a 30-minute music show on CFMB.

Radio Humsafar owns another radio station, CJLV 1570AM in Laval. Shortly after acquiring it, the group applied to the CRTC to increase the amount of ethnic programming it could air. The CRTC rejected that application despite Humsafar’s claims that the station could not survive without more ethnic programming. The station remains on the air, but hasn’t done much since then.

Financial projections for the new 1610 AM station show it spending between $90,000 and $142,000 a year on programming, with revenues rising from $214,000 to $552,000 a year. Under these optimistic projections, it would start making money in its second year.

The CRTC will consider both of these applications at a hearing in September. While the two are not technically mutually exclusive, the fact that they would be targeting the same communities suggests the commission would likely approve at most one of them.

But even that is not guaranteed. In 2011, judging that Montreal already had enough ethnic radio stations, the CRTC rejected three applications for new ones. One of them was a proposal by Radio Humsafar very similar to this one: The same transmitter site, same power, same frequency (technically it was for 1400kHz, but with 1610 as a backup if/when CJWI changed frequency to 1410), and serving many of the same ethnic groups.

This new application focuses a bit less on Hindi and Punjabi, and more on Tamil and other unserved languages. If the CRTC approves it this time, that will be the reason.

The station’s application includes letters of support from CHOU (Radio Moyen Orient) and CJWI, and mentions discussions with CHCR.

Comments on the two applications are being accepted until 8pm ET on Tuesday. They can be filed here. Remember that all information supplied, including contact information, goes on the public record.

TSN 690 personalities thank their fans for saving the station

Because it’s owned by Canada’s largest media company, and now Canada’s largest radio broadcaster, it’s hard to argue that TSN Radio 690 is a mom and pop shop.

And yet, just about everything about this station screams “underdog.” It has the lowest ratings of the five commercial English-language stations in Montreal. It puts out a lot of original programming on a small budget. And twice in the past year and a half, it has faced annihilation because its parent company made it clear that it valued each of the three Astral stations more than it did this one.

This underdog feeling was certainly present Thursday night at Hurley’s Irish Pub, as Mitch Melnick and other personalities from the station invited fans to help them celebrate the recent CRTC decision that not only allows it to maintain its format but guarantees it for at least seven years.

There are still changes to come. Melnick pointed out that the plan is to eventually move the station from its current home on Greene Ave. in Westmount to the Astral Media radio (now Bell Media radio) building at Papineau Ave. and René-Lévesque Blvd. There’s also the looming threat of layoffs as the consolidation of resources creates redundancy in staff. (The hammer has already fallen at Bell Media stations elsewhere in the country.) But, while it may not have been a raucous affair, there were a lot of thank-yous given out on this night.

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CRTC’s compromise on Sun News is a positive step forward

Sun News Network lives. And you won’t be forced to pay for it through a mandatory tax.

On Thursday, the CRTC issued a series of decisions about applications for mandatory distribution on basic cable and satellite TV services. Most of the new applications were denied, including that of Sun News Network, which argued it should be placed on basic cable across the country so it can get the same regulatory boost that its competitors CBC News Network and CTV News Channel once enjoyed themselves. (They don’t anymore, though CBC News Network is mandatory in French-language markets and both are on most large providers’ basic packages.)

The reason was simple: Sun News is not exceptional, and hence does not qualify for an exception. Though it is certainly different from the other Canadian all-news channels, it is not significantly more Canadian nor does it serve a goal of the Broadcasting Act that the other services don’t.

It said it couldn’t continue to operate at seven-figure losses without the distribution order. But with the announcement of the new proceeding, it says it will keep operating.

This denial was predictable. It was only in 2009 that the CRTC officially opened the genre of mainstream news channels to direct competition, allowing all of them to be treated equally and allowing the free market to dictate carriage and pricing. To then turn around four years later and start re-regulating this genre makes no sense.

But Sun News had some important and valid points to make in its favour. It argued it was being treated unfairly by competing distributors (notably Bell, which owns CTV News Channel). It said it couldn’t come to deals with certain distributors, and that as a channel that provides 100% Canadian content and more than 90 hours a week of original programming, it should be treated better than channels that air reruns of Lois & Clark.

So the CRTC did what it usually does with controversial issues: It struck a compromise. No mandatory carriage, but it is proposing that all digital television distributors be required to offer all Canadian news channels to their subscribers, that they be required to group Canadian news channels together on their channel lineups, and that they be required to package Canadian news channels together.

In its call for comments on the proposal, it notes that, though older news channels don’t enjoy the kinds of regulatory perks they used to, their incumbency gives them an advantage:

Due to incumbency, non-Canadian services are distributed for the most part in packages that enjoy high penetration and therefore significant access to potential viewership by Canadians. These services have also secured more lucrative wholesale fees when compared to their Canadian counterparts. On average, non-Canadian news services receive a wholesale fee of $0.73 per subscriber per month, whereas English- and French-language Canadian news services receive on average a wholesale fee of $0.36 per subscriber per month.

Specifically, the proposed rules are as follows:

  • Distributors must make all licensed Canadian Category C national news channels available to subscribers. (Currently the only channels licensed under this category are CBCNN, RDI, CTVNC, LCN and Sun News.)
  • Distributors must place new and existing national news channels “in close proximity to one another (so as to create news neighbourhoods).”
  • Distributors must make Canadian national news channels available in a package and on a stand-alone basis, and require the inclusion of Canadian news services in packages that offer non-Canadian news services.
  • Distributors must make Canadian national news channels available in “the best available package consistent with their genre and programming” unless the channel agrees otherwise.
  • Distributors should file carriage agreements for Canadian national news channels and non-Canadian news channels with the CRTC within five days.
  • When a carriage agreement with a Canadian national news channel has not been renewed within 120 days of expiring (or agreed to within 120 days of launch for new channels), the agreement should go to the CRTC for dispute resolution unless the news channel no longer wants to be carried.
  • Wholesale rates for Canadian national news channels should be “based on fair market value”, considering previous rates, penetration rates, volume discounts, packaging, rates paid by unaffiliated distributors, rates paid for “services of similar value to consumers”, interest in the channel, and retail rates for packages or the channel by itself.

Note that these rules would apply to national news channels under Category C, not to regional news channels like CP24, or to news-like Category B channels like BNN or Argent.

As it stands now, Sun News is carried by most major television providers in Canada, including Bell, Shaw, Rogers, Videotron, Cogeco, Eastlink and Sasktel. The largest holdouts are Telus Optik TV and Manitoba’s MTS.

But getting an order requiring distribution would give Sun News a leg up on negotiations. It would no longer have to beg for a spot on the dial. And submitting the channels to automatic dispute resolution would give distributors (and Sun) additional incentive to come to a deal.

The packaging requirement would give Sun News its biggest boost, requiring distributors to distribute channels like Sun News in their most popular news packages, and possibly force people to subscribe to it if they want non-Canadian channels like CNN, MSNBC or Fox News.

The exact details of how that would work will probably be worked out through this process.

Sun News made a big deal about channel placement, and this proposal hopes to address that, but as I’ve written previously, that’s not such a huge issue for most distributors, which already place Sun News with other news channels. The exceptions are Shaw Cable and Rogers Cable (admittedly the most popular cable systems), which had Sun News as an outlier among Canadian news channels. The Rogers case was often cited because it put its own regional news channel CityNews on Channel 15 in SD. (That channel has since been shut down.)

One thing this won’t do, though, is put Sun News on analog cable, which is still used by about 20% of Canadian television subscribers. The CRTC says it made it very clear that it will not add new services to analog cable, and it won’t make an exception here. So despite Sun’s arguments that its competitors are on analog cable and its viewership skews toward older Canadians who are more likely to have analog cable, it won’t have access to them unless (or, likely, until) they upgrade to digital.

Expect this proposal to meet opposition, both from Sun News opponents and from distributors who oppose more rules about how they should package and number channels.

But though I have issues with forcing Sun News onto subscribers who might want CNN or MSNBC (assuming this is a result of this process), the proposal strikes a balance between the desire to encourage new Canadian news channels and the desire for consumer choice.

Remember that this policy would apply to all Canadian national news channels. If Global decided to launch one or expand its BC1 service nationally, or if a channel like BNN decided to convert to this category, it would have the same obligations and benefits.

Open to comments, but only on details

The CRTC is accepting comments on this proposal, and has not set it in stone yet. It has not called a hearing to discuss it, and generally proposed policies presented in this way have already been decided on and will be approved. It will be up to interveners (in this case, the cable and satellite distributors or other broadcasters) to bring up any issues the CRTC may not have considered and to recommend minor changes to the policy, but the commission is unlikely to be swayed to abandon it entirely.

The CRTC is accepting comments until 8pm ET Sept. 9, and those that file comments may reply to others’ comments by Sept. 24. After that, the commission will consider a decision, and the new rules could take effect within 90 days of a decision on a new policy. “The Commission intends to act swiftly on this matter,” it says.

Comments can be filed by clicking here. Note that all information provided, including contact information, is placed on the public record.

More coverage of Sun News decision:

CRTC’s mandatory carriage decisions: Mostly status quo

The CRTC’s long-awaited decision on mandatory carriage came out today. While everyone’s attention was on Sun News Network, which was denied a mandatory carriage order but thrown a bone with a review of rules concerning the distribution of Canadian news channels — see my analysis of that decision here — there were a bunch of decisions here. For the most part, proposals for new services were denied and existing services were renewed, some at slightly higher rates.

The exceptions are these:

  • TV5’s proposal for mandatory distribution across Canada, in exchange for providing a second feed focused on francophone communities outside Quebec, was approved
  • AMItv Français, a French-language described video service that would be a sister network to AMItv, was approved
  • The Nunavut and Northwest Territories’ request for mandatory distribution of their parliamentary channel on Bell and Shaw satellite services was approved
  • ARTV has been awarded an order requiring all digital cable providers offer the service to subscribers, though that can be on a discretionary basis, and at a negotiated rate
  • Avis de recherche was denied renewal of its mandatory distribution order, though it is being given until Aug. 31, 2015, to work out a new business model if it wants to stay alive

Here, in chart form, is what was proposed and what the CRTC decided for each channel:

Channel Description Language Current fee Requested fee Approved fee Conditions Notes
ACCENTS Francophone minority communities French N/A $0.25 Denied Licence denied as it was dependent on mandatory distribution
All Points Bulletin Police bulletins English N/A $0.06 (E) Denied Licence renewed as non-mandatory service
AMI-audio Readings of news articles English $0.04 (E) $0.04 (E) $0.04 (E) Licence renewed
AMItv Described video English $0.20 (E), $0 (F) $0.20 (E), $0 (F) $0.20 (E), $0 (F) Licence renewed
AMItv Français Described video French N/A $0 (E), $0.30 (F) $0 (E), $0.28 (F) New licence approved
APTN Aboriginal English, French and Aboriginal languages $0.25 $0.40 $0.31 Licence renewed
ARTV Arts and culture French N/A N/A N/A Service has access rights across Canada, but remains discretionary Licence was renewed as part of larger CBC licence renewals
Avis de recherche Police bulletins French $0.06 $0.08 $0.06 Service remains mandatory only in Quebec, only until Aug. 31, 2015 Licence renewed as non-mandatory service until 2020
Canadian Punjabi Network Punjabi programs Punjabi N/A $0 Denied Had requested mandatory distribution only in areas with high Punjabi-speaking population. Licence denied as it was dependent on mandatory distribution
Canal M Audio reading service French $0.02 (F) $0.04 (F) $0.02 (F) Licence renewed
CPAC House of Commons and other public affairs programming English and French $0.11 $0.12 $0.12 Licence renewed
Described Video Guide Audio service of described video programming information English N/A $0.02 (E) Denied Licence denied as it was dependent on mandatory distribution
Dolobox User-generated content English N/A $0.06 to $0.08 Denied Service remains licenced but has yet to launch
EqualiTV Programming about people with disabilities English N/A $0.25 Denied Service remains licenced but has yet to launch
FUSION Youth/user-generated content English N/A $0.32 (E), $0.16 (F) Denied Licence denied as it was dependent on mandatory distribution
IDNR-TV Natural resources English/French N/A $0 Denied Licence renewed as non-mandatory service
Legislative assemblies of Nunavut and NWT Legislative hearings English/other N/A $0 $0 Applies only to satellite services Terrestrial distributors in the territories already carry these channels
Maximum Television Video-on-demand English N/A N/A Denied Licence denied as it was dependent on mandatory distribution
Starlight Canadian movies English N/A $0.40 Denied Licence denied as it was dependent on mandatory distribution
Sun News Right-wing news English N/A $0.18 (E), $0.09 (F) Denied The CRTC is looking at setting new rules about distribution of Canadian news channels. Will continue as non-mandatory service
TV5 and TV5 UNIS Francophones outside Quebec French N/A $0.30 $0.28 (F), $0.24 (E) Both channels combined must produce at least 50% Canadian content; Order comes into effect only after TV5 UNIS’s launch Dissenting opinion from Candice Molnar saying service does not qualify for distribution order. Licence renewed
Vision TV Faith programming English N/A $0.12 Denied Licence renewed as non-mandatory service
TOTAL $0.60 (E), $0.44 (F) $2.72 (E), $2.47 (F) $0.91 (E), $1.07 (F) New distribution orders in effect until Aug. 31, 2018.

(F) denotes fees in markets with a majority francophone population, and (E) denotes all other markets. For simplicity, I’ve included Quebec-only distribution orders as French-language markets, though the two definitions are not identical.

Note that this isn’t an exhaustive list of mandatory carriage channels. CBC News Network (in French-language markets), RDI (in English-language markets) and The Weather Network/MétéoMédia also have mandatory distribution at non-zero rates.

UPDATE: L’Express Ottawa speaks to the people behind ACCENTS, who say the CRTC’s decision was flawed and they don’t believe TV5 will properly fulfill the mandate of giving a voice to francophones outside of Quebec.

Videotron expands HD lineup, but still has a long way to go

On Wednesday, Videotron added three new high-definition channels to its digital cable lineup: Canal Savoir (622), TLC (665) and History (674). This is another small step in the improvement of Videotron’s HD offering, but still leaves it well behind competitors Bell and Shaw.

There are two reasons why Videotron’s English-language HD channel lineup is so far behind: First, because most of its customers are francophone, it puts a priority on French-language HD channels. (And, indeed, it’s hard to justify investing in an HD offering in this province unless you have carriage on Videotron.) That’s why it has and not YTV; MusiquePlus and Musimax but not MuchMusic; LCN but not CTV News Channel; Canal Vie, Moi & Cie and CASA but not Slice; TFO but not TVO, etc.

The second reason is that Videotron is still supporting an analog cable system, which uses as many as 54 6 MHz channels, limiting how many new HD channels it can add. While Videotron stopped selling new analog cable subscriptions to residential customers a year ago, it hasn’t begun dismantling the network yet. Once it does pull the plug, those 54 channels can translate into as many as 162 high-definition channels (or more likely some mix of HD channels, SD channels, video on demand channels and more bandwidth for cable Internet).

In the meantime, it’s rearranging channels, expanding into higher frequencies and doing other things to squeeze in a few more HD channels every few months as it launches new services and upgrades some existing channels.

So what should be next on Videotron’s list? Here are the channels that are available in HD and that at least one competitor has added to its HD lineup:

Movie channels: Hollywood Suite (WB, MGM, AXN, Sony)*, Movie Network channels (MExcess, MFun, MFest) Movietime, Sundance Channel, SuperChannel* (it’s coming soon), Turner Classic Movies, W Movies

Entertainment channels: ABC Spark, Bold, Cartoon Network, CMT, Comedy, Cosmo TV, Game Show Network, Lifetime, OutTV, MuchMusic, Teletoon (En/Fr), W Network

Educational/reality channels: Animal Planet, Discovery Science, Documentary, E!, EQHD*, HiFi*, H2, Investigation Discovery, NatGeo Wild, OLN, radX*, Slice, Travel + Escape, TVO, Wild TV

News and information channels: Bloomberg TV*, BNN, CTV News Channel, HLN, MSNBC

Sports channels: Big Ten*, CBS Sports*, Fight Network, NFL RedZone*, Sportsnet 360, Sportsnet Ontario/West/Pacific, Sportsnet World, TSN Habs*, World Fishing Network

Family/children’s channels: Family, Disney Jr. (En/Fr), Disney XD*, Nickelodeon*, Treehouse, YTV

Canadian superstations: CHCH*, CHEK*, NTV

U.S. superstations: Peachtree, WGN, WPIX, WSBK, KTLA

Third-language channels: OMNI

*Channels aren’t carried in SD either

I’ve been told that there’s a plan to add SuperChannel to Videotron’s lineup soon, in SD and HD. (SuperChannel must be distributed by providers outside Quebec, but there’s no obligation here, despite SuperChannel’s previous complaints.)

Here are my personal top 10 (in no particular order) for HD channels Videotron should be adding soon:

  • Movie Network Channels: Right now Videotron distributes only the main Movie Network feed and HBO Canada in HD, while most of its competitors also carry the three other feeds. Considering how expensive TMN is on cable bills, this should be a priority.
  • Hollywood Suite: Adding this package of channels would go a long way toward improving Videotron’s HD movie lineup
  • Sportsnet 360: The channel formerly known as The Score is among the most requested to add in HD. And Videotron has said repeatedly it plans to do so soon. It’s even added a channel to its system, but for some reason it’s not live yet.
  • Sportsnet World: Like with The Movie Network, this channel deserves an upgrade if only because of the high price of subscribing to it.
  • TSN Habs: Is there really any doubt that you have customers that want to watch Canadiens games in English? I don’t know if this is Bell’s fault or yours, but it’s time to bury the hatchet.
  • The Comedy Network: Comedy was a bit slower than movies and drama to make the transition to HD, but it’s there now, and there’s enough content that it’s worth upgrading Comedy to HD. When The Colbert Report moves off of CTV in the fall and goes “Exclusive to Comedy”, expect demand to grow.
  • MuchMusic: The fact that this isn’t already in HD is very surprising. Both MusiquePlus and Musimax have been in HD for a long time now. It’s well past time.
  • YTV: Similarly to MuchMusic, this is one of Canada’s oldest specialty channels, has a lot of original programming and has provided an HD feed for more than two years now.
  • CTV News Channel: It’s the only Canadian all-news channel that Videotron doesn’t carry in HD, and though it was slow to upgrade to HD (only launching in 2012), it provides enough original HD content to justify an HD channel.
  • At least one CW channel: Whether it’s New York’s WPIX, Chicago’s WGN or Los Angeles’s KTLA, which Videotron distributes in SD, the network produces a good enough block of original programming to qualify. And while some of that programming has been picked up by Canadian stations, much of it hasn’t.

But those are just my suggestions. What are your priorities? Which channels are you pissed off they haven’t added or upgraded yet?

Don’t blame STM employees for doing their jobs

STM bus En Transit

When I was younger, considering my options for a future career, I thought of being a bus driver. I enjoy public transit, and thought it would be fun to spend the day driving such a big vehicle around town, meeting a bunch of people, turning that giant horizontal wheel.

And having people spit in my face.

I didn’t imagine that last part, and thankfully it doesn’t happen too often, but there seems to be this mentality in this city that bus drivers and other employees of our mass transit system are scum of the earth, seen with disdain by the blowhards that seem to make themselves heard the loudest in our media (social or traditional).

For left-wing activists, there’s the expression “ACAB”, which stands for “all cops are bastards”. For the soccer moms and dads out there, it seems like “all bus drivers are bastards” is the common refrain.

It’s not just that this is a generalization based on an exaggeration, but the actions it’s based on are often simply the drivers doing exactly what they’re supposed to.

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Breakfast Television Montreal fills out its staff

We’re now less than three weeks until the launch of Breakfast Television Montreal, the flagship program on City Montreal, and most of the staff is in place. Bob Babinski, the station’s executive producer, tells me he still has one position to fill and another person has been hired but hasn’t started yet, but here’s the staff in place that I know about for the show:

Name Position Previous job
Bob Babinski Executive Producer Concordia University/freelance
Jeffrey Feldman Supervising Producer eTalk/Fashion Television producer
Alexandre Despatie Host Olympic diver/commentator/reality show judge
Joanne Vrakas Host CBC Montreal reporter
Wilder Weir Live Eye host Cosmo TV host
Catherine Verdon-Diamond Weather/traffic CBC Montreal weather presenter
Laura Casella Reporter CJAD reporter (also freelanced at CTV Montreal)
Elias Makos New Media Producer Freelance/CTV Montreal columnist
Melanie Porco Segment Producer CTV Montreal researcher
Kelly Albert Segment Producer CTV Montreal researcher
Genevieve Skelton Segment Producer Breakfast Television Edmonton producer
Levon Sevunts News writer/reporter Radio Canada International producer/researcher
Elysha del Giusto-Enos Production Assistant The Link (Concordia University)/freelance
Chelsea Nicole ENG editor City Toronto
Cosmo Santamaria Cameraman/editor CTV Montreal cameraman
Martin Daigle Cameraman/editor

Add on to this list the people who are working for Montreal Connected (Alyson Lozoff, George Athans, Kelly Greig, Ian Graham, etc.) and there’s a decent starting crew at this station, though it’s nowhere near the staff you’ll find at market leader CTV Montreal.

Biographies of the five on-air personalities are posted on City’s website, and Elias Makos has created a Twitter list of BT Montreal’s Twitter-enabled staff. (I have a larger list of the people connected with all three local shows on the station.)

Looking at the list, and particularly where they come from, you can see that some talent has been taken from the competition. But there haven’t been any high-profile steals. None of the three competitors have lost any of their anchors or senior managers. Joanne Vrakas (CBC) and Laura Casella (CJAD) are the only reporters that have been snatched up. And other than Alexandre Despatie, most of the names on this list are probably as little known to anglo Montreal as they are to francophones.

But that’s not to say there isn’t talent here. People I’ve talked to say that City has taken some of their best (and in some cases most underrated) people. Jeffrey Feldman, Vrakas and Casella had a lot of praise from their former colleagues. Grabbing two of CTV Montreal’s four researchers was also cited as a big coup for the startup station, along with luring away talented cameraman Cosmo Santamaria, who couldn’t get a permanent full-time job at CTV.

I should also note that the word “Global” doesn’t appear on this list. It’s a phenomenon I’ve looked at in the past, but despite its poor ratings, Global Montreal doesn’t tend to lose talent to the competition. The last two high-profile departures, assistant news director Alexandra Henderson and reporter Mike Le Couteur, were both for jobs within Global (in Toronto and Ottawa, respectively). There is no shortage of people doing remarkable things with very limited resources at that station, but they’re not being lured away.

Note that this is a list of employees. Columnists and regular contributors are still to come, though we know of at least one already.

Breakfast Television begins Aug. 26 at 6am on City Montreal.